Mexico, MLB Affiliates Come Calling on Sioux City
American Association Daily provides insights, features, and recaps of the action from around the American Association of Professional Baseball League, as well as player and coaching profiles and transactions. In today’s edition, Robert Pannier takes a look at the number of players from the Sioux City Explorers who have already had their contracts purchased by Major League affiliates or the Mexican League.
Where Everyone Knows Your Team
Since the beginning of the 2020 season, the American Association has established itself as arguably the best Partner League, especially when it comes to having players signed by Major League affiliates or whose contracts are purchased by the Mexican League or other foreign professional baseball leagues.
In 2021, nearly 75 players went back to MLB affiliates. The number declined last year, reaching just shy of 20. This year looks like it could easily eclipsed 2022.
The 2023 American Association season has not even reached the spring training yet, but already seven players have returned to affiliate clubs, and another 13 are headed for Mexico. It is truly a testament to the level of talent that the league has to offer, especially considering that these players have already seen their contracts transferred before the first pitch was thrown in spring training.
Over the past few seasons, it has been the Kansas City Monarchs and the Milwaukee Milkmen who have seen the largest number of contracts transferred. They are already off to a quick start the season, closer Rodrigo Benoit and catcher Dean Nevarez left the Milkmen to head for Mexico and left-hander Ben Holmes had his contract purchased by the Chicago White Sox. The Monarchs have two of their superstar outfielders heading for Mexico (Jan Hernandez and Mallex Smith), and it is likely that many more will be headed for greener pastures.
The Lake Country DockHounds have also had three players whose contracts have been purchased. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein headed for Mexico. Outfielder Jake Snider had his contract purchased by the Colorado Rockies and right-hander Nick Howard was signed by the Atlanta Braves.
Explorers on Another Path
Those teams have some big holes to fill, and the three managers have already been proactive in finding talented players to fill those roster spots. However, one team has had an unbelievable number of players whose contracts have already been purchased, and this is going to be quite a task for the team’s manager to fill the void. That team is the Sioux City Explorers.
With spring training less than a week away, already six players have had their contracts transferred. That includes four to Mexico and two to Major League affiliates. Right-hander Max Kuhns, who has been one of the best relievers in the league over the last few seasons, was signed by the Philadelphia Phillies on February 14. On April 6, outfielder Danny Amaral had his contract purchased by the Colorado Rockies.
The transfers did not end there, however. Last year’s closer, Thomas McIlraith, headed for Mexico, as did outfielder Ademar Rifaela. On Wednesday, it was announced that right-hander pitcher Nivaldo Rodriguez and left-hander Kevin Escorcia were also headed south of the border.
That is a significant loss to the team. Amaral led the American Association in stolen bases last season (48), while hitting .295. Rifaela hit .315, and the pair combined for 107 runs, 17 home runs, and 69 RBI in 147 games.
McIlraith finished with 19 saves and tossed 45.2 innings. Kuhns appeared in 40 games, tossing 59.0 innings while striking out 86. He was 4-6 with four saves. Rodriguez signed late in the season, making five starts where he went 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA. Escorcia was the only one who did not pitch for Sioux City last season, but had impressive numbers for Ottawa (Frontier League) in 2022, posting a 4-2 record with a 1.70 ERA in 37 appearances. The left-hander struck out 51 in 37.0 innings pitched.
That is not just a loss to the ball club. That is a complete gutting of the team. The Explorers will need a new leadoff hitter, a No. 3 hitter, a closer, two set up guys in the bullpen, and the likely No. 1 starter.
No doubt Manager Steve Montgomery has his work cut out for him, but let’s be clear about something right now. With these kinds of losses early in the season, if Sioux City finishes in first or second place in the West Division in 2023, Montgomery is the manager of the year. Bank on it.
By Robert Pannier